The blessings I’ve had being a Columban Lay Missionary are when I journeyed with the Filipinos in my ministry in the Malate Parish, Philippines, for three years, and with the Mexican people at the Mexico/U.S. border for six years. As a lay missionary I have learnt new things in life in crossing boundaries of culture, language, places, and situations different from mine. These experiences have helped me a lot to grow. In this way of life I have lived out my call in baptism to serve others and witness to God’s Love for everyone.
I have been involved in catechism for children and parents and youth ministries in Corpus Christi Parish. The Parish is located in an area where there is violence, but many people from different parts of Mexico still come here to find work, look for a better life and for some, with the intention of crossing to the U.S.
Having listened to the stories of the people, it made me reflect on the hardships they go through. I often ask myself, “What can I do to help them?” Then I came to realize that the greatest love and service I can provide them was my presence and time to listen to their stories and to pray with them. Many of them came back to the church for healing, finding inner peace, forgiveness through what they’ve been through.
One example is a story of a woman who, in her teenage years, became a prostitute. She now has four sons and is living with a man who loves her and who has given her hope and a new life. I met her during one of our group meetings for parents, and we became friends. One day she invited me for lunch to her house. It was then that I knew that she trusted me as she shared her stories openly. What struck me in her sharing was when she said, “Sai, I believe that history repeats itself. I don’t want my children and grandchildren to go through what had happened to me and what I went through in the past. I want to come back to the church to learn and understand my faith, practice it and teach what I’ve learned to my children and grandchildren.”
It was a very powerful life story for me. Her words challenged me for I saw a soul thirsty for God’s healing and I asked myself how I can journey with her in her wanting to grow in faith and in knowing God. I was aware that Mexican people are devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe so I started sharing with her about praying the rosary. Later on, this experience encouraged me to educate myself about the Sacraments by reading books, listening to talks, as well as through the internet. I also registered in an online Catholic Teaching website in English and Spanish to get more information and resources about the Catholic faith and share it with others in our parish, like my friend, and many other parishioners.
Now, as I continue on my missionary journey, I live out our charism of Columban mission by crossing boundaries of culture and language to work and journey with the poor and marginalized. With joy, I witness as a disciple of Jesus, to a new way of being church to hear the cry of the poor finding and celebrating God’s loving presence among the poor and marginalized.
In reflecting on my experiences in mission, I learned how we, Columban lay missionaries, are practicing the role as laity in the church to witness to the Sacraments and the Gospel to the people we serve. Through our journey together with faith towards healing our brokenness, I believe that these people are missionaries to their own families, to their community and to the Mexican church. Being part of the team at the border, I realized that just as the priests celebrate Mass, give Sacraments for and with the people, we, as laity, witness to or live out the Sacraments to the people we serve and share our lives with, this way, we are able to work towards building bridges within and among communities.
Sainiana Tamatawale is a Columban lay missionary from Fiji. She is currently assigned at the U.S./Mexico border.